A thirsty state

Your guide to California policy and politics
Ben Christopher BY Ben Christopher June 2, 2022
Presented by Dairy Cares, Southern California Gas Company, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and Politifest 2023

A thirsty state

So it begins.

More than 6 million water users (that is, humans) across Southern California woke up on Wednesday to find themselves under new drought restrictions

If you’ve been following the numbers, none of this should be surprising:

The rules vary by locale. In the city of Los Angeles, lawns will be limited to two brief waterings per week. But pity the grasses of Calabasas, where waterings will be limited to once per week.

To the north, water restrictions also went into effect across Santa Clara County on Wednesday.

The longer the drought persists, the more changes that California can expect.

Some of those changes are political: The water crunch is reviving a decades-long debate about a potential new reservoir, Sites, in Colusa County.

Some are economic: In the Central Valley, some farmers are ripping up their orchards and planting agave to make tequila, while San Diego water agencies are in fierce competition for sewage to purify. 

And some of the changes are literally taking place beneath our feet: Overdrafting of aquifers is causing land in the southern Central Valley to sink — by as much as a foot per year.

Mea culpa: In Wednesday’s newsletter, I mischaracterized a quote from Sacramento Assemblymember Kevin McCarty. He was referring to Assemblymember Robert Rivas when he said “he has a big lead over anyone who wants to be the next speaker.”


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,955,662 confirmed cases (+0.5% from previous day) and 90,719 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 76,314,328 vaccine doses, and 75.3% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.


1 The inmate shuffle

Susan Ottele holding a photo of her son Adam Joseph Collier who committed suicide while in solitary confinement in a California state prison. Photo by Tojo Andrianarivo for CalMatters
Susan Ottele holds a photo of her son, Adam Collier, who killed himself in October 2020 at age 43 in a California state prison. Photo by Tojo Andrianarivo for CalMatters

In the four years before he killed himself, one inmate was transferred 39 times by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, zig-zagging among institutions across the state

Why did the state’s prisons move Adam Collier so frequently? And what happens to other inmates with serious mental illness?

CalMatters reporters Jocelyn Wiener and Byrhonda Lyons found that, over the past year, most of the state’s prison inmates rarely moved, but a subset was transferred much more frequently. Of more than 86,000 inmates who had been incarcerated at least 12 months prior to last June, almost 2,000 moved at least four times and 32 moved eight times or more, according to the analysis of state data.

The shuffling takes a toll — both on the inmates and on their families.

  • Cedrick Johnson, a 61-year-old inmate diagnosed with schizophrenia: “It doesn’t make you better at all.”
  • Jennifer Hoff, whose son with schizophrenia has been incarcerated for a decade: “It’s meant to grind you to dust.”

The CalMatters investigation explores the circumstances behind Collier’s suicide in prison in October 2020, and the policy dynamics behind the chronic shuffling of some inmates.

2 Election roundup: T-minus 5 days

Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock
Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock

As Election Day approaches, the amount of money spent by outside interest groups hoping to sway your vote continues to ramp up. As of Wednesday afternoon, “independent expenditure” committees sponsored by unions, corporations and other special interests have pumped more than $33 million into competitive primary races across the state.

Sometimes all that spending creates strange political bedfellows.

  • Big business for candidate Q: In the 21st Assembly District, which runs along the peninsula south of San Francisco, most deep-pocketed groups have gotten behind one of two Democrats, Redwood City Mayor Giselle Hale or San Mateo Councilmember Diane Papan. 

But last week, the California Chamber of Commerce’s committee spent $25,000 on ads supporting the lone Republican in the race, Mark Gilham. Boosting a long-shot Republican in liberal stronghold in order to edge out one of two competing Democrats is a common strategy by outside interest groups. 

But Gilham is no ordinary Republican. He included “WWG1WGA,” a hashtag associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory in his official ballot statement and posted Q-curious content on his Facebook page. His campaign website also declares his blanket rejection of transgender identity.

I asked the business advocacy group why it was supporting Gilham.

  • Spokesperson Denise Davis: “We don’t discuss our strategy on issues like this.”

Speaking of electoral mysteries, here’s one from Michael Shellenberger, an unaffiliated candidate for governor and erstwhile San Francisco progressive who visited the CalMatters office on Wednesday.

How exactly did he get an endorsement from the reliably GOP-friendly Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association?

  • Shellenberger: “Tax peace.”

Shellenberger told us that while California’s tax system is broken, he promised not to make any changes — and definitely not back tax increases — in his first term as governor. Find out more later this week about Shellenberger on the issues with the full video of his 90-minute interview in our comprehensive Voter Guide.

By the way, thanks to the wizardry of data reporter Jeremia Kimelman, you can now see how much each campaign is self-funded by the candidate

2022 Election

Your guide to the 2022 general election in California

3 The Legislature has a deal

California Gov. Gavin Newsom unveils his 2022-23 state budget revision during a press conference in Sacramento on May 13, 2022. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo
California Gov. Gavin Newsom unveils his 2022-23 state budget revision during a press conference in Sacramento on May 13, 2022. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

Apparently not to be distracted by the imminent possibility of losing his job, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon on Wednesday announced that he’d struck a budget deal with his counterpart in the Senate, Pro Tem Toni Atkins.

Now that the horse-trading is over between the two chambers, negotiations will begin between the Legislature and the governor’s office. The emphasis from both legislative leaders is on sums that will go toward financial relief from inflation-beset Californians. 

  • Atkins, in a statement: “With this budget, we are spreading our state’s wealth to hard-working Californians and small businesses like never before.”

That relief in the face of high prices of the pump will also be one of the stickiest points as legislators and the governor haggle:

  • The Legislature wants to send $200 per taxpayer, except for single filers making more than $125,000 or joint filers earning more than $250,000.
  • The governor prefers to send $400 to car owners only, with some added cash for transit agencies to incentivize free rides.

The constitutional deadline to pass a budget is June 15. Given that tight turnaround time, the Legislature is most likely to pass this version while continuing to hammer out their differences with the governor before the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

Where all sides agree (at least among the Democrats) is that Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for low-income Californians, should be expanded to include all undocumented immigrants. But even those who qualify for the program don’t use it because the income eligibility limit for free care is so low, explains CalMatters health reporter Ana B. Ibarra. While the Atkins-Rendon deal includes $31 million to reduce the cost share for seniors, it isn’t in Newsom’s May budget revision.  

4 A seat at the table

Fast-food workers and other SEIU members marched to the Capitol to deliver postcards and petitions in support of AB257 to the Governor's Office on May 31, 2022. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters
Fast-food workers and other SEIU members marched to the Capitol to deliver postcards and petitions in support of Assembly Bill 257 to the governor’s office on May 31, 2022. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

The California Senate is considering a bill that would transform how the state’s fast-food industry pays, treats and negotiates with its more than 700,000 employees.

The proposal, backed by the Service Employees International Union, would create an 11-member council of business, labor and state representatives council to negotiate wages, hours and working conditions for the entire industry.

The policy is borrowed from Europe, where “sectoral bargaining” systems allow workers to negotiate terms across entire industries rather than one shop, restaurant or warehouse at a time. 

But it may be a step too far, even for the state’s labor-friendly Democrats. 

  • Sen. Dave Cortese, a Campbell Democrat: A single board setting policy statewide could be like “using a meat cleaver instead of a scalpel.”

Read the deep dive by Alejandro Lazo and Jeanne Kuang of CalMatters’ California Divide team.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Gov. Gavin Newsom advocates “completely reimagining” California’s schools to equalize academic outcomes, but will it work?


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

The Mall King Who Would Be L.A.’s Mayor // New York Magazine

Berkeley student, 16, arrested on suspicion of mass shooting, bomb plot // Berkeleyside

Elon Musk to Workers: Spend 40 Hours in the Office, or Else // New York Times

Judge orders a stop to California pesticide spraying program // San Francisco Chronicle 

White House to announce debt relief for former students of CA-based Corinthian Colleges // The Hill 

High gas prices complicate Democrats’ hopes of picking up US House seats in California // CNN

Climate change may force a break up with your beloved range // San Jose Mercury News

Rationing, saltwater toilets and desalination: How Catalina hopes to survive historic drought // Long Beach Post

Where L.A. mayoral candidates have raised the most money ahead of the June 7 primary // Los Angeles 

Bees are ‘fish’ under California Endangered Species Act // Reuters

’Devin Nunes’ cow’ roams beyond Twitter, forms PAC // Sacramento Bee

See you tomorrow


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